Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Mr. Barbicane Takes A Trip" Chapter Twenty-Seven

While Vivian Teller was saying Charley’s name, Vickie was listening to her mother’s car pulling out of the driveway and heading off to the library where she volunteered twice a week. Vickie had stayed in bed, offering fatigue as the reason she couldn’t come down for breakfast. Her mother said she understood, she was just happy to have her daughter home and they’d go The Olive Garden tonight and celebrate and catch up on everything.

When the sounds of her mother’s Toyota had faded, Vickie got out of bed, pulled on a pair of sweat-pants and a pair of running shoes and left her bedroom. She went to the far end of the hall and reached up to grab the length of rope attached to the base of the stairs leading up into the attic and pulled. There was a twangy complaint from the thick springs holding the stairs in place then that section of the ceiling folded down in front of her. She flipped the last few steps into position and then climbed up into the attic.

The attic of the house was an unfinished place of dark, orange wood and thick baffles of insulation, some held in place by sheet rock. It was a place of off season clothes and Christmas decorations, unfinished projects and the remains of childhood. The space smelled of camphor and dust.

Sunlight came through a circular window at the front of the house, but Vickie needed more light. She pulled the string attached to the chain attached to the switch of a bare hundred watt bulb hanging from a beam. Shadows were instantly everywhere.

She had a fair idea where the thing she was looking for could be found. She went to a run of garment bags, bulky plastic things like so many fat bats hanging from a pole set between two beams. She went through the bags, through the formals and comforters, the ski clothes and the extra blankets, until she found the bag she was looking for. She pushed the garment bags on either side away and twisted the one she wanted so the zipper faced her. Vickie opened the bag and reached inside. She reached past several items until she found the right hangers and pulled them out. Vickie took a step back and hooked the hanger around the edge of a beam.

She kicked off her shoes, pulled down her sweat-pants and stepped out of them. Then she crossed her arms, took hold of the hem of her t-shirt and pulled it off over her head. Then she reached for the first hanger, slipped the jacket off and set it aside so she could unbutton the shirt. She took the shirt off the hanger and slipped her arms into the sleeves.

It was voluminous on her. The tail of the shirt fell half-way down her thighs and her hands were lost above the cuffs. She buttoned the shirt, tugged up the sleeves and reached in for the trousers. She opened the French fly and held the pants in front of her.

Vickie lifted her right leg and slipped it into the trousers. They were too long and she had to pull the fabric up in order to get her right foot back on the ground. This done she lifted her left foot and stepped into that leg. She pulled the trousers up to her waist, tucked in the shirt and fastened the fly.

The pants started to slip off her hips. She grabbed the waistband and pulled them up. Then she fastened the belt and pulled it tight around her waist. It looked like there was as much belt left over as there was going around her.

Vickie took the tie from the hanger and put it around her neck. She fastened the top button of the shirt. The collar swam around her like the collar on something worn by a clown. She tied a serviceable 4-in hand and slid the knot snug against her throat.

She took the jacket from the top of the trunk where she’d set it aside and put her right arm through the right sleeve. There was much more jacket than their was Vickie.

Then she put her left arm into the left sleeve. She fastened the metal buttons and tugged at the hem of the jacket to make it fall straighter.

Vickie was not so much wearing her father’s uniform as she was enveloped by it. Her shape was lost in all the blue-gray material.

She shrugged down into the jacket and shirt like a turtle withdrawing into a shell. She could smell the sweet camphor but nothing else. No sense of sweat or anything left behind. Vickie folded her arms, hugging herself, hugging the uniform, hugging the uniform against herself, and closed her eyes. She felt the fabric against her legs, the mechanics of the French fly brushing her.

Sometime in the night, after the storm passed and she woke up and saw the moon, sometime after that she started thinking about the uniform. She thought about it up in the attic and how she wanted to see it. Then she started to think about what it would be like to put the uniform on. And the thought of that ran down her spine. Her reaction to the thought startled her, startled her to the point where she was suddenly afraid to go upstairs and look for the uniform. The uniform didn’t frighten her, it was the strength of her reaction to the idea of going up there and putting it on. Things were, she believed at the time, confusing enough. In this respect, she was wrong.

She slept a little after that, but not very deeply. She missed dawn itself and opened her eyes to a room full of sun and sounds of her mother in the bathroom and then getting dressed and coming along the hall and tapping on her door. Her mother came to her and they hugged and that’s when Vickie told her she was going to take a pass on breakfast and her mother told her not to worry.

Her mother kissed her and went downstairs.

For the next forty minutes Vickie stayed in bed, turned on her side, hugging her pillow and listening to the sounds coming up to her from the first floor of the house where her mother made several phone calls, listen to NPR on the kitchen radio, went out the back door to move the recycling bins and then came up to say goodbye to her daughter.

Alone in the attic, Vickie released her hug and leaned over at the waist. The clothes enveloping her shifted and she felt her nipples brushing against the inside of her father’s shirt. Vickie was very unsure about where this was all going.

She looked down at her feet, at her bare toes peeking out from the billowing pants. She wiggled her toes. Then she straightened up and reached into the garment bag for her father’s cap, which was in a separate plastic bag. She took the cap out of the bag. It was much more substantial than she was expecting it to be. It was wool with a leather brim and a satin lining. There was a metal emblem on the front showing a particularly aggressive looking American eagle.

Vickie took the cap by the sides and lifted it over her head then slowly lowered it. It dropped down over her eyes.

“This must have been how the wicked witch of the west felt when she started to melt.”

She pushed the cap back and looked around for a mirror. There was none in the attic. Gathering up the oversized pants as if she were gathering a skirt, Vickie moved to the steps. She was going to go downstairs and look at herself in the mirrors attached to the sliding doors of the closet in her old room.

The wool of the pants was rough against her legs and the cap kept slipping forward covering her eyes. The clothes were swallowing her up, consuming her.

She got to the top of the stairs, turned and started down backwards.

She didn’t know where the sense of wickedness was coming from. The tingle of being alone in the house and dressing up. It was like a thrill of childhood, but she knew there was really nothing childish about why she’d gone up to the attic and put on the uniform. Something had come undone somewhere inside her, or rather something had come together and she was trying to figure out if it meant anything.

Suppose it did? What the hell would she be able to do about it?

Reaching the bottom of the stairs the cap dropped over her eyes again as she turned toward the hallway. She stopped and lifted the cap. That’s when she saw Rory standing in the hallway looking at her in her father’s army uniform.


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